CHAMPAIGN, Ill — Illini nation is still celebrating clinching bowl eligibility with the thrilling, come-from-behind victory over Michigan State. But with that behind Illinois and No. 19 Iowa on the schedule, the Illini have a chance to improve the Bowl Game that Illinois will be sent to.
Playing in Iowa City, Iowa is one of the most difficult places to play in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes, (7-3, 4-3) are 5-1 when playing at Kinnick Stadium this year — but the Illini have been no stranger to challenges this year.
“It will be a big challenge to go on the road,” said head coach Lovie Smith. “And we accept that challenge.”
Iowa is coming off beating Minnesota, and handing the Gophers their first loss of the year. While this game does have Big Ten West implications (yes, Illinois can still win the Big Ten West), the Illini have not forgotten last year’s game against Iowa.
At Memorial Stadium, the Illini got absolutely dissipated by Iowa, 63-0 — and now have a chance to go to Iowa and give the Hawkeyes the same feeling that they gave Illinois a year ago.
“We were embarrassed (by Iowa) on our home field last year,” Smith said. Iowa’s a good program.
“Yeah, we bring up the 63-0 thrashing last year,” Smith said. “When you play that way, you hope you get an opportunity to play better. We use everything possible to get guys ready.”
The last time the Illini went into Iowa and defeated the Hawkeyes was in 1999. That win was before I was born, and current athletic director Josh Whitman was on the team.
Iowa is especially strong on the defensive side of the ball, but the same has been said about Wisconsin and Michigan State and we know how those games turned out.
“Defensively, Iowa plays great football,” Smith said. “They have been for a long time. Of course, this year has been no exception. They have one of the best d-linemen in football (A.J. Epenesa).”
The Illini have a very difficult task ahead against this highly ranked Iowa team, especially since this game matters for Big Ten standings and the degree of bowl games that the Illini can potentially play in.
“Games get a bit bigger,” Smith said. “That’s exactly where we want to be in November.”
Smith mentioned that he wants his program to get some national respect. The Illini have won four games in a row and three of those games the Illini were double-digit underdogs, they won them all.
This week is no different.
“We’re double-digit underdogs every week,” Smith said.
The four game winning streak has given Illinois one vote in the AP poll for consecutive weeks, but a revenge-game win against No. 19 Iowa could strengthen that resume even more.